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Social Enterprises

Volume 521: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2011

8. What assessment he has made of the likely effects on the social enterprise sector of reductions in Government expenditure. (34287)

9. What assessment he has made of the likely effects on the social enterprise sector of reductions in Government expenditure. (34288)

11. What assessment he has made of the likely effects on the social enterprise sector of reductions in Government expenditure. (34291)

There is no doubt that the cuts that we have had to make as a result of the huge deficits that were piled up in government by the colleagues of the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) have made and, in the immediate future, will make life difficult for some voluntary and community sector bodies, contrary to the way in which I was misrepresented by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett). However, we have put in place measures that will vastly increase the opportunities for voluntary and community bodies to participate in public service delivery and earn money by doing so, and we have established a £100 million transition fund.

Will the Minister explain to the House what discussions he has had with his Treasury colleagues about extending and reforming community interest tax relief, which many social enterprises want to happen? That might be a way to enable social enterprises to flourish, despite the reductions that are contemplated.

Tax relief is, of course, an issue for the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Budget time, and I would not dream of trampling on his front lawn. The hon. Lady should recognise two important facts. First, charities already receive about £3 billion in tax relief, including a VAT exemption for trading activities for their main purposes and gift aid. Secondly, we are reluctant to create an unlevel playing field between social enterprises that are not charities and the private sector, because we want to ensure that there is a fair contest between the two and that social enterprises are fully involved in competing for public service delivery.

I take note of the Minister’s reply. In opposition, he said that the creation of a social investment bank was a priority, and last July the Government said that such a bank would be making loans by this April. We now know that that will not happen until the end of 2011. Is he frustrated by the Government’s dithering?

It is certainly true that we would like that to happen as fast as possible. We would have been much assisted in that if the previous Administration had not spent three years talking about it without setting up anything and without allocating any money to it. We have made arrangements for the bank to have some money. We hope to get more into it and to set it up in the very near future.

Given what has been said by my two colleagues and the Minister, will he explain more fully what immediate help the Government will give to the voluntary sector to help it create more social enterprises?

I hope that the hon. Lady has already gathered that we are trying to do two things. The first is to provide immediate assistance to voluntary and community groups that have had a tough time because of the spending review. The transition fund of £100 million is open. We are waiting for the bids to be completed, and they will then be judged and money will be handed out. Secondly, we are opening a wide terrain of public service delivery functions that can be carried out by voluntary and community groups, resulting in a huge potential for them to earn.